Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pro Bono Legal Service Opportunities for Students: CASA

The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Project 
at the Appalachian School of Law

The Appalachian School of Law offers three pro bono service programs. Today, I'll talk about the first program -- the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.  In later postings, here and here, I profile the VITA tax service program and the Great Eastern Trail project, respectively.

Court Appointed Special Advocates
CASA is a national organization managed on a state and local basis through the court system.  The 29th Judicial District, which includes Buchanan County, employs case managers to supervise volunteers from the community.  ASL students serve as the majority of the local volunteers.  
ASL students spend 30 hours in intensive training at the school to learn to advocate for children in court.  ASL provides a classroom and materials for the training.   The trainer brings in speakers from the Department of Social Services (DSS), the police department, medical officials, mental health workers, and anyone else in the community who could provide insight to volunteers about how the community responds to child abuse and foster care.

At the conclusion of training, the case managers assign each student a case involving a child or children whom DSS has taken into custody.  In the custody proceeding, attorneys represent both DSS and the parents.  
Most importantly, CASA volunteers provide a voice for the children in court.  The volunteers visit with the children, their foster families, their birth families, doctors, teachers, friends, and anyone else involved with the children.  The student-volunteer then prepares a report and testifies in court on behalf of the children.  The volunteer commits to remain on the case until the court terminates the rights of the parents, the child is placed for adoption, or the court orders that the child be reunified with his rehabilitated parents.  This process can take up to two years.
Volunteers commit approximately sixty hours a year to each assigned case.  They work primarily during the school year, but they may continue throughout the summer to monitor the assigned child and his or her family. 
The program offers both obvious and subtle benefits.  CASA volunteers can better assure that the court hears and understands the needs and interests of abused and neglected children.  Volunteers see a sad side of human nature that they may not have seen before, but they can provide vulnerable children justice and a better future.  The CASA program also gives students a substantial opportunity to provide pro bono services to citizens of Buchanan County, including its tiniest.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Appalachian School of Law Alumni Hold Prestigious Public Service Positions

A quick review of the postings by scambloggers suggests that ASL grads are a sorry lot.  Too bad the facts say otherwise.

Without going into additional detail, which I will happily do in later postings, I can say with great pride that our graduates have already ascended to these professional heights in public service positions:

  • 1 state legislator (2011 grad)
  • 5 judges (2002-2009 grads)
  • 4 judicial clerks (2007-2012 grads)
  • 6 Commonwealth Attorneys (2000-2008 grads)
  • 4 in Judge Advocates General Corps (2003-2011 grads)
  • 1 in federal government (Soc. Sec. Adm.) (2005 grad)
  • 3 in state government (2004-2006 grads)

This data does not reflect employment by our most recent grads.  

This list reveals that in a very short time after graduation, our graduates assume public service positions that further the service mission of the school, provide financial security for the families of these alumni, and show --  in the best way possible -- that we graduate practice ready lawyers. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back to School: Award-Winning Campus of the Appalachian School of Law

We have a law school that looks like a law school!

An ABA accreditation team found:  “The physical structure . . . is an especially imaginative and thorough-going remake of a . . .  public school facility.  It has a high degree of functionality, is a thing of beauty, and dominates the landscape of the town and environs.”
The Main Building
Appalachian School of Law uses a renovated Depression-era school, built as a WPA project in a Jeffersonian-architectural style, for its main campus building of 45,572 square feet.  It houses most of the classrooms, administrative offices, and faculty member offices. 
Those Depression-era masons so soundly laid the original brickwork that ASL’s founders made no structural change during renovations in 1997. The renovation project earned an award from the American Institute of Architects and has drawn other acclaim.     

The ABA accreditation team also noted:
"As in the case of most mountain towns, the small valley is intersected by a creek as well as a roadway, and the village-like joining of the three facilities in the picturesque setting, astride the mountain stream, is really quite lovely – and more than that, conducive to the kind of study, reflection, and discourse one would hope for in a residential learning community.  The School has clearly learned how to draw strength from its environment.  What others might see as imposing limitation instead has become a clear asset."

The Main Building also offers a central area for socializing in the Lions' Lounge, a space named after two historic wood sculptures of lions.

The school created a new student lounge this past summer.

The two-story Main Building surrounds an open courtyard, in which ASL has placed movable patio tables, chairs, and plants.  ASL uses the space for classroom discussions, student parties, cookouts, the Graduation Celebration, and for other special events.  Local residents often use it for weddings.

Landscaping enhances the appearance of the 3.5 acre campus.  The area in front of the Main Building consists of a lawn with large, mature trees, a flower garden around the marble ASL sign, a lighted fountain in the cement walk leading to the front entrance of the Main Building, and outdoor benches near and under the trellis area.  Students and faculty, as a community service project, planted over 300 flower bulbs, over fifty perennial mums, and 50 trees on the grounds.  

The Library
A covered walk-way connects the Main Building and the Library.  The founders of ASL extensively renovated the adjacent Library building in 1998.  In 1951, it began as an elementary school, consisting of 24,780 net square feet.  The building provides a modern, well-organized, and technically advanced library for use by the students, the faculty, and the local legal community.

The Booth Center
In mid-2006, Alex Booth, a successful businessman with original ties to the Buchanan County community, launched the construction of a building for higher education within Buchanan County by providing the original seed money.  The contractors completed construction of the 49,369 square foot building in the fall of 2007, with ASL first offering classes in its portion of the building on January 7, 2008.  In this space, ASL uses a large classroom, a conference/seminar room, and offices for the Business Office, Career Services, Institutional Development, and Alumni Relations.

Overall, the campus provides a comfortable learning environment that is grounded in the history of southwest Virginia. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

5,000 Page Views for The Red Velvet Lawyer

Friends and family (perhaps mostly family):

You helped me reach a milestone much earlier than ever expected!

Some time this morning, while I was doing laundry, you pushed to over 5,000 my total page views for the blog I launched in March.

I truly appreciate your interest in this aspect of my "voice."

Next month I hope to do some in-depth interviews of our faculty members.  After that, I'd like to profile many of our students and alumni.

I love you all!  Really.

Let me know what else I can do to make your student or law practice lives easier or more informed.   Feel free to send me suggested topics.

Back to School: Successful 2013 Summer School Program

In response to interest expressed by our students, Appalachian School of Law offered several summer school courses that met students' scheduling and geographic needs.

These courses further benefit students by giving them options to pursue interests that our bar-focused curriculum makes more challenging during the regular school year.  

The courses made it much easier to satisfy the requirements of two certificate programs: the Lawyer as Problem-Solver certificate and the Natural Resources Law certificate. 

More than fifty (50) students registered for the four courses offered in the summer of 2013:
  • Workers' Compensation [and ADR],
  • Oil & Gas Law,
  • Law Office Practice, and
  • Renewable [Energy Sources]. 
For a description of the courses, see our catalog.


Several years ago, Appalachian School of Law tried to offer a more traditional law school format with courses scheduled during the months of June or July.  A few students found these offerings attractive, but most students needed to live elsewhere during the summer to work and make some money.  An Evidence course, taught remotely by Associate Professor Derek Howard via a web-based platform, served the needs of some of those students.

New Summer Program

This past summer (ouch; summer is gone) we met the needs of working students by offering summer school courses scheduled closely after the spring semester ended in May or closely before the fall semester began in August.  We offered them in one- or two-week intensive formats to meet the ABA-established criteria for required classroom time, while allowing students to spend most of May and all of June and July in other locations.

Future Offerings
In 2014, Appalachian School of Law will offer additional courses in the May and August intersession.  We may also offer a January intersession.

For more information about the intersession offerings, contact our Registrar at 276-935-4349 or at  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back to School: New Master's Degree Option at Appalachian School of Law

In August of 2013, the  Appalachian School of Law began offering a new advanced degree.  The Master’s in Legal Studies (MLS) degree serves students who:
  • Are interested in being trained in the law for professional development; 
  • Want a birds-eye view of what legal studies is like without committing yet to the rigors of the entire law school experience;
  • Seek the possibility of receiving special admissions consideration to the JD program by successfully completing the MLS degree (perhaps because they have a lower GPA or LSAT score); or 
  • Work in a field that is law-related, heavily regulated, or is benefited by specialized legal knowledge, like: 
    • paralegal, 
    • human resources, 
    • ethics/compliance, 
    • contract marketing and/or analysis, 
    • general management, and 
    • similar fields.
A student can complete the Master’s degree in one year, but may take up to three years to complete the thirty-one (31) credit hours required for graduation.  

Students take courses side-by-side with JD students, but the faculty assesses MLS students against the efforts of their fellow MLS classmates (and not their JD counterparts).  

Additionally, the program is flexible enough to allow students to take several courses in areas of interest, such as natural resources, workers’ compensation, and environmental law.  Indeed, if the student desires, s/he can take an additional one or two accelerated courses and also receive a concentration Certificate in Natural Resources and Energy Law and Regulation or Human Resources and Management Law and Regulation without extending the degree program beyond one academic year.  

For more information, contact our Admissions Office at 276-935-4349 or Assistant Professor Kendall Isaac.   More information also appears here

Friday, August 23, 2013

Standing in my Power

This week, I held my last Board meeting as President of the Virginia Mediation Network (VMN).  It was a bittersweet moment giving me a chance to reflect back on all we had accomplished and the chance to say: "What's next!"

I remember the first meeting I conducted as VMN President, in October 2012.  I arrived frazzled and exhausted after staying up most of the night reading all the copies I could assemble of the minutes of past-Board meetings.  I was trying to find the loose threads that I might need to follow or tie up.

Then I turned my attention to my Dad's very old, yellow-stained, version of the Robert's Rules of Order that he had used as President of some professional organization a long time ago. I was trying to learn how to conduct the meeting the next day.

I was overwhelmed, but worked hard to be ready for the trust my tribe had placed in me.  As part of that personal growth of trusting myself and earning the trust of my tribe, I had:

  • Attended a week long training at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro that made clear-- through a 360 feedback process -- the support I had from all my Board members.  That experience gave me the confidence I needed to face the challenge with more courage and calm.
  • Gotten training in a group facilitation method called Appreciative Inquiry that proved so helpful later on.
  • Exceeded all my expectations by planning two conferences for VMN involving over 40 speakers.
  • Launched a strategic planning process for the organization.
  • Interviewed all 12 of the current Board members using an hour-long Appreciative Inquiry format and then interviewed about 10 of the past-Presidents.  In doing so, I learned more about my colleagues, the history of the organization, its ongoing challenges, and my colleagues' dreams for VMN's future. 
  • Wrote four President's Messages, appearing in the VMN newsletter, that were intended to inspire our members;
  • Supported my colleagues on the Board, as needed;
  • Mastered the essential parts of Robert's Rules of Order after reading them another three or four times;
  • Nearly mastered a web-based work platform called TeamViewer;
  • Mastered the Doodle meeting planner platform; 
  • Worked collaboratively with my President-elect, who has also become a close friend; and 
  • Encouraged the women on the Board to "lean in" and "stand in their power."
One of the most interesting comments coming out of the interviews I conducted with past and current Board members was this.  Many said that they had not thought they could serve until someone asked them to do it.

That was certainly true for me.  First, VMN's leaders asked me to serve as Conference Committee Co-chair and then as President. Thank Heavens they had more confidence in me than I had in myself at the time. (Perhaps our new law students feel the same way.)  

After this experience, I won't wait to be asked to serve.  I will look for those opportunities.  I thank my VMN colleagues for letting me learn these lessons about my leadership capacities.  I love you, and I love our tribe. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back to School: Pre-Law Publication Recognizes Appalachian School of Law

The August 2013 issue of preLaw: A National Jurist Publication features the Appalachian School of Law in its article entitled: "Small and Personable."

The article focuses on 12 law schools -- located in Virginia, West Virginia and eastern Tennessee -- that offer small class sizes and a personal touch.

The discussion of ASL notes that its founders decided to place the law school in the heart of central Appalachia so it could serve the region in many ways.
It quotes our fabulous Dean, Lucy McGough, saying:
We are committed to and take great pride in our "Cheers Effect."  Here at ASL, everybody not only knows your name, but also is invested in your success in law school, in passing the bar, and in ensuring your professional career. 
It notes ASL's focus on experiential learning leading to practice-ready skills.  It recognizes our nationally known externship program.

It also describes our upper level focus on dispute resolution, our bar exam prep course, and our award winning community service program.

For the full article, see here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to School: Everything Starts with an Idea

Students may have said I was breaking all the rules of what I call "Mountain Modesty" over the past several days.  They may have perceived my story as bragging about myself, and I was a bit.  

But, mostly, I was trying to describe how every achievement begins as an idea.   

Recently, one of my ideas -- first hatched in 2004 -- manifested as the published 3-page essay in a new book called, What the Best Law Teachers Do, by Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerald F. Hess, and Sophie M. Sparrow (Harvard U. Press 2013).

Hang with me here for a moment.  You will like this less conventional way of thinking about how an idea goes from beginning to full execution.

Yogis who talk about the energetic system of chakras will tell you that every idea moves through six of the seven chakras to manifestation.  The "Third Eye" chakra -- located between the eyes in the middle of the forehead -- represents where, in the mind's eye, we think up ideas.

The next step in their manifestation is at the "Throat" chakra, where we talk about the idea to ourselves and to others.  The idea begins to take on more form and specificity.  Some yogis associate this chakra with creativity.  Others associate it with power, but without taking the idea to this next step, it probably simply slips away.

Next, the "Heart" chakra plays a role.  Tied to passion, the idea now picks up the energy of your drive, desire, and love for it.  You talk about it with even more excitement and test whether you have sufficient passion for it to move forward.  You also test whether the idea is consistent with your true self.   

Now we get to the chakra at the "Solar Plexus," right in the middle of your stomach, where all those abdominal crunch exercises build core strength.   Now you must decide whether to use your own personal power and strength to continue to develop the idea and to take action to bring it into being as a tangible work product of some sort.  Again, without this crucial step, the idea simply stays on hold.  It falls in the "Someday-Maybe" category of your to-do list.

But, if you do take those steps you are now entering the phases that see it move from your personal sphere of influence into the world.  Now you use the energy of your "Sacral" chakra to enlist the help of close partners to birth that still embryonic project.  So, if you have created a beautiful painting as an expression of the power and energy in your "Solar Plexus" chakra, you now talk with your friend -- the gallery owner -- to see if she would like to display it.  Or, maybe the partner is a loved one, a boss, a colleague, a coach, or someone else who wants to align with your creative energy to produce something wonderful.   After all, this is the chakra associated with sex and reproduction. 

Now the "Root" chakra. This chakra represents the energy of your group -- whether family, community, or business "tribe."  It takes the energy of your tribe to make your project a broader success.  This is the last stage in the manifestation of your idea.

So here is the path I started in 2004.  

First, I borrowed from our law school library the book, Teaching the Law School Curriculum, by Steven Friedland and Gerald F. Hess.  I'm a process person, and I really wanted to learn how to be a good teacher. (Here is where I apologize to the students who suffered through that learning curve the first few years I taught law school courses.)   I loved this book, constructed of short essays by 20 or so law professors. It describes different approaches to teaching and assessment in law school.  The discussions showed passion for teaching, great love for students, and the use of creative, but carefully planned approaches.  It opened a world for me that also jived with my experience as an adult learner.   

Second, I recall saying to myself: "I want to be in the next edition of this book!" (Third Eye and Throat chakras.)

Next, in 2009, Sophie M. Sparrow, law professor at University of New Hampshire, sent an email soliciting essays for the new edition of the book she and two other authors planned to write. (She was using her Root chakra to enagage with her tribe.)  I emailed her back suggesting an essay on using props in the classroom. (Using my Sacral, relationship-based, chakra because I knew her from her visit to our school for a faculty workshop on group learning.)  

I also circulated the email to my ASL colleagues (my tribe) in case someone else also wanted to submit an essay.  Professor Stewart Harris wrote an essay on paying attention to course evaluations submitted by students, which I think he called: Sometimes We Do Suck.

Fourth, I wrote my essay and submitted it for consideration. (Using my Heart and Solar Plexus chakras.) 

Fifth, In February 2010, the lead co-author, Michael Hunter Schwartz, sent me an email saying: 
I am excited to inform you that we would like to publish your submission, “The ADR Toys and Tools Show: Using Props in the Law School Classroom” in Techniques for Teaching Law II (Carolina Academic Press, forthcoming fall 2010).  We feel that your use of props is incredibly clever and the idea of using such props has application beyond an ADR class. 

That was a really great day.  I was probably leaping around my office, smiling and clapping my hands!

But now, the real manifestation process began.  And, it was in the hands of the three co-authors, including Gerald R. Hess, the author of the first edition I loved so much.  I relaxed.  I waited with patience.  These folks are gifted legal writing professors with a very long list of ideas they fully manifested.  And . . . they have built a loving tribe of legal writing professors who respect these co-authors deeply.

And, then I waited some more.  Then more.  "Hmmm," I began to think.  "What is taking so long!?"

So I asked Michael about the status.  His reply:
It turns out that Harvard Press' editorial process is more extensive and elaborate than we had imagined.  The good news is that our two anonymous reviewers were very enthusiastic, and the book passed the publisher's internal review process with flying colors.
"Phew,"  I sighed.  Still on track, but clearly the tribes associated with all these various root chakras are tough to master.  Yet, I was confident the co-authors would push this book out into the world.  

And then -- nine years from the date when I first hatched the idea -- on August 16, 2013, sent me a notice announcing the sale of the book.

That, too, was a really great day!

So students and friends, I share this story because we know how easy it is to give up on our ideas.  They get stalled at the higher chakras of energy -- heart or solar plexus.  And we may also fear reaching out to our partners and to our tribe for the help we need to fully manifest our projects.  

And yet, our ideas and projects serve others and, in the process, also make us better people.  

So, dream big, then work like hell, and with patience, to manifest those dreams.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to School: Do You Want to Be Christopher Robin, Piglet, or Eeyore?

Some positive affirmations:

  • Fear can’t stop me from moving forward. 
  • I’m worthy of positive changes in my life.
  • Today, I welcome change as an opportunity.
  • I am fulfilling all my commitments today.
  • I am confident in my ability to meet challenges today.
  • I have all that I need to do what is good and right in my life today.
  • I am learning to trust my own wisdom and give myself permission to follow it.

In July, I posted some positive affirmations for nervous bar exam takers here.  This past Friday, I provided our incoming students with a modified copy of the same list of affirmations during the session I taught on test taking strategies and test anxiety.

Science confirms that this sort of positive self-talk changes our brains in good ways, elevates emotions, and generates the kind of energy people want to be around.

Think of Christopher Robin -- the wise, pleasant, cheerful, compassionate companion and leader  -- in the Winnie-the Pooh book series.  

Or, Piglet, Pooh's kind, gentle, and shy friend.  With Pooh's help, the little pig shows bravery, overcomes his fears, and faces danger to help his friends.

In contrast, think of  Eeyore, Pooh's "ever-glum, slow-talking, pessimistic, and sarcastic donkey friend" who couldn't even keep his stick-made home from repeatedly falling apart.  

For a delightful example of how this works, take a look at this video of  4 year old, Jessica, doing her daily affirmation.  How different is that self-talk from what most of us say in the mirror every morning?  (And ignore the circulating parody.  It is funny, but sad.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School: Lowest Tuitions for a Private Law School

The Appalachian School of Law has one of the Lowest Tuitions of any Private Law School East of the Mississippi River

Appalachian School of Law, given our mission and the population we serve, has worked to keep tuition affordable.

For the 2012-13 year, we charged $31,000 per year.  And, we lock that number in for the remaining two years of law school.  This number does not reflect scholarships or tuition remission many students obtain.

As a private law school, we rely on tuition and donations to operate the school. We get no state tax monies (as far as I know) or infusion of capital from a university parent.

A recently updated comparison of 106 private law schools, provided by Regent Law School, shows that the Appalachian School of Law joins seven other private law schools with tuition costs below $31,000. Only three of those schools are located east of the Mississippi River.  Their tuition costs range from $29,360 to $30,450 for the 2012-13 year -- so not far off from ASL's tuition.

Cornell University is the most expensive private law school on the comparison list at $55,220.   Brigham Young University is the most affordable law school on the list at $22,900.  Brigham, no doubt, receives subsidies or donations from the Mormon Church to help keep its tuition so affordable.

The ABA reports that average tuition for private law schools in 2012 was $40,834, showing a 4 percent increase over the previous year.  For 1986 to 1993, schools increased tuition, on average, by 8 percent to 11 percent.  For 1994 to 2008, schools increased law school tuition, on average, by 5 to 7 percent.

The recession clearly affected tuition by reducing the average annual increase to 4 or 5 percent since 2008. For the same period, U.S. consumer price inflation rates fell to .01 percent in 2008 to a high of 3 percent in 2011.  For 2012, the rate was 1.7 percent, substantially below the 6 percent increase in average law school tuition rates implemented at the start of that academic year.

In 1980, I entered law school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  I recall paying $6,000 a year in tuition, which an online inflation calculator indicates would be equivalent to $16,718 in 2012.  The Regent Law School comparison list shows that this top-ranked school now charges $46,710 per year in 2012-13.

Many of the scambloggers have speculated about why we have seen increases in tuition that exceed cost-of-living inflation rates.  I don't have any empirically proven answers.  I suspect that the U.S. News Ranking system caused many schools to incur costs in their attempt to achieve a better ranking.  Maybe they bought fancier buildings, bigger name professors, and students with higher entry level statistics. Interestingly, U.S. New and World Report began ranking law schools in 1989, when law schools began imposing significant increases in average tuition costs, as the ABA report cited above shows.  

Changes in ABA accreditation standards have also played a role, I think.  For instance, our library collection and related costs represent about one-sixth of our budget.  From my perspective, the ABA standards, which resist the conversion of collections from hard copies to eBooks and online services, play some role in the expense we incur in that category.  The ABA accreditation standards also limit the number of credits a student can earn using distance learning, which allows schools to reach more students at affordable rates.

The downturn in applications to law school will likely put appropriate pressure on administrators to find inefficiencies and reduce costs so they can make law school more affordable to students.  Several schools are freezing or lowering tuition this year.

For more information, contact our Admissions Office at 276-935-4349 and here.

For information about our generous scholarship program, see here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to School: Managing Stress, Controlling Anxiety, and Getting Enough Sleep

Focus and be well-rested?  Every law student's elusive desire. 

For today's class on test taking strategies and test anxiety, I asked our new 1L students to read M.H. Sam Jacobson's article: Paying Attention or Fatally Distracted?  Concentration, Memory, and Multi-Tasking in a Multi-Media World ( 2010).  She skillfully digests the science behind her thesis that students cannot be successful in law school if they do not manage distractions.  She also recommends getting plenty of sleep.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning up my email box (and trying to avoid distractions), I found a web interview of Dr. Richard J. Davidson, co-author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain.   The interview (53 minutes) talked about the plasticity of the brain and how mindfulness meditation can help people manage distractions and shape the brain in helpful ways. 

I knew some of this science from my own experience, training, and reading.  But, in one of those odd moments of synergy, this information came together in time for today's class.  As noted in an earlier posting, I have taken our new law students though three guided meditations this week.  

Today, they experienced a body scan meditation designed to help them relax, get calm, manage anxiety, train the brain, and perhaps fall asleep when desired.   You can find samples of these meditations all over the web. I like this one, by Greg de Vries, frankly because it was not too hokey.  

Overall, students appreciated these tools, and I am so very happy I had the forum in which to teach them.

Yes, the Appalachian School of Law is a very different kind of law school.

P.S.  I just found this blog posting on improving sleep quality and quantity using a "cool little app called SleepCycle."  Interesting.  Again, self-awareness gives you power to change.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back To School: Exciting New Natural Resource and Environmenal Law Program

This month, the Energy and Mineral Law Institute is featuring Appalachian School of Law on its website.  I have reproduced that lengthy discussion below.   Be sure to check out the link for the upcoming symposium.  It will be terrific. Students may get a discount.  

Our Program

Excitement is growing over the official launch of ASL’s Natural Resources Law Program in 2013.  The NRLP is intended to provide a place for rational discussion, intelligent debate and collaboration by engaging both students and the surrounding community in efforts to balance our very real energy needs with stewardship of our land and natural resources.  

A few years back, ASL formulated a plan to create a nationally-recognized natural resources law program.  The goal was to take advantage of ASL’s location in the heart of Appalachia’s coal and gas fields, to attract high quality students with an interest in this area of the law, to provide a resource both to the surrounding community and to the many energy and mineral employers in the region, and to enhance ASL’s academic reputation.  Now, due to the foundation that has been laid by many dedicated stakeholders, faculty members, Board members, students and friends of ASL, the NRLP is ready to launch.

The Governor’s First Biennial Natural Resources and Energy Law Symposium, hosted by ASL

The NRLP will be formally rolled out the ASL-hosted Governor’s First Biennial Natural Resources and Energy Law Symposium on September 23, 2013 in Abingdon, Virginia.  There, respected legal experts will interact with ASL professors in examining topics relevant to practice in natural resources law, particularly as they relate to the Appalachian region.  The 2013 program will focus on “The Future of Energy,” and bring all sides together for rational discussion about how to responsibly address some of the country’s most pressing energy challenges. Representatives from industry, the environmental community, government, and academia will engage in intelligent debate in an atmosphere of civil discourse on a range of important contemporary topics.  Additional information is available at ASL plans to host such a symposium biennially.

Our Curriculum

The core of the NRLP is its curriculum.  Drawing on ASL’s diverse and highly qualified faculty, all with significant relevant practice experience, the school demonstrated its commitment to the NRLP by greatly expanding course offerings in areas related to natural resources.  Current offerings include:
  • Natural Resources Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Sustainable Energy Law
  • Coal Law
  • Oil & Gas Law
  • The Law of Renewables
  • Real Estate Transactions
  • Environmental Dispute Resolution
  • Water Law
  • Appellate Advocacy – Natural Resources

Our Certificate Program

The deep curriculum allows the NRLP to offer a specialized Certificate in Natural Resources Law, so students can highlight for prospective employers their commitment and knowledge in this area.  To achieve the certificate, a student must complete at least 15 hours of natural resources related coursework with at least a 3.0 grade point average. 

Our Partners

The formal launch also allows the NRLP to highlight other keystones of the Program that have been put in place over the past several years.  ASL’s ongoing relationship with the Energy and Mineral Law Foundation (EMLF), for example, provides opportunities for scholarship awards, continuing legal education and networking with leading energy and mineral practitioners.  

Further, for the past several years, ASL has partnered with Virginia Tech to offer a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Natural Resources; this program reflects the interdisciplinary approach of the NRLP and allows students to take graduate level classes from one of the nation’s premier natural resources programs.

ASL has also built an advisory Task Force of leading attorneys and representatives of the energy industry, the environmental community and regulatory agencies. The Task Force meets regularly and advises ASL on the real-world legal, industrial and environmental landscape in order to develop the strategic direction of the NRLP. 

Of course, none of the NRLP’s ambitious goals can be met without the generous institutional support of ASL and further support from several of its friends.  The NRLP has received over $300,000 in significant gifts from area foundations, industry and individuals to further its mission. The W. Arthur & Frankie Mae (McGlothlin) Street Distinguished Visitor Fund provides for faculty, staffing and program initiatives, and a local foundation issued a matching challenge of $25,000 per year for five years. 

A leading energy company has met the challenge with a $25,000 scholarship; subject to annual review, the scholarship will be renewed for four additional years. An anonymous individual donor celebrated the holidays in December with a $10,000 gift to the NRLP to honor family and friends. In addition, Dominion Energy made a $95,000 grant award to Professor Buzz Belleville to examine wind energy development in Virginia.

Career Benefits of the NRLP

                Between the partnerships ASL has fostered and the training ASL provides, ASL students are finding increasing career opportunities in natural resources, environmental and energy law.  Current and former employers of ASL grads in these areas of law include:
  • Alpha Coal Sales                                                              
  • Mountain Institute
  • Alpha Natural Resources                                              
  • Noble Energy
  • British Petroleum                                                           
  • Penn, Stuart & Eskridge
  • CNX Land Resources                                                       
  • Rhino Energy
  • Creekmore Law Firm                                                      
  • Shell Oil
  • Environmental Protection Agency                           
  • Steptoe & Johnson
  • Equitable Resources                                                      
  • Teco Coal Corporation
  • EQT Production Company                                            
  • VA Dept. of Environmental Quality
  • Frontier Energy Group                                                   
  • Western Land Services
  • Jackson Kelly Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs         
  • Jones & Associates
  • York Professional Land Services
  • The Street Law Firm

Our Student Organizations and Moot Court Teams

Among ASL’s many student organizations, two of its most active are the Energy and Mineral Law Society (EMLS) and the Environmental Law Society (ELS).  Both organizations have organized speakers and panels at ASL.  In addition, EMLS hosted a successful CLE program on black lung in 2013, arranged for student trips to working coal mines, and frequently arranges tree-planting at abandoned coal mine sites on Arbor Day.  ELS hosts an annual “Green Bowl,” a Frisbee football tournament to raise funds.  In the past, those funds have been used to send local high school students to outdoor recreation camps in Roanoke and to purchase a recycling bin for the ASL campus.

ASL students also put out a dynamic Journal of Natural Resources Law (JNRL).  In addition to its own edition, the JNRL partners with EMLF to provide cite-checking and editing for the publication of EMLF’s Annual Institute.  The JNRL will also be publishing a journal of papers from the Biennial Natural Resources and Energy Law Symposium.

ASL fields highly successful moot court teams at competitions in all areas of the law.  Over the past several years, it has sent teams to nationally-recognized competitions in areas of environmental law and energy law.  In 2012, an ASL team reached the semi-finals of the National Energy & Sustainability Moot Court Competition at West Virginia University; in 2013, ASL was the runner-up at the 72-school National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition at Pace University.

Externship, Internship, Summer Courses, and Scholarship Opportunities

ASL has a nationally recognized externship program for students between their first and second years at law school.  In recent years, with the help of the Task Force, ASL has been expanding natural resources law sites for externships.  Over the past year, ASL has more than doubled the number of natural resources and environmental law sites.

In addition, ASL has started a competitive program for placing 2Ls at select natural resources, environmental and energy law sites for paid summer internships.  As a result of the expansion of the externship program, ASL has arranged 11 “premier” internships for rising 2Ls that include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Washington, D.C.;  Bristol Virginia Utilities - Bristol, Virginia;  Joanne Nolte, The Nolte Law Firm, P.C. – Richmond, VA; Josh Baker, Administrative Attorney for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development - Workers' Compensation Division – Nashville, TN; Senator Mark Warner - Abingdon, VA; and Stephen W. Mullins, Stephen W. Mullins, P.C. - Dickenson County attorney for four local water authorities and two non-profit corporations.  

As part of its broader efforts, ASL has begun offering natural resources related summer courses, in order to provide greater curricular choices to ASL students, to allow the students to meet the certificate requirements, and eventually to attract students from other institutions.  Further, thanks to some of the partners listed above, ASL will begin awarding natural resources related scholarships.  This financial support will allow ASL to attract the most qualified students with an interest in natural resources law. 

Our Leadership and Faculty

Key drivers behind the NRLP launch include Program Counsel Dan Caldwell, a Principal and Shareholder of McElroy, Hodges, Caldwell and Thiessen.  Mr. Caldwell oversees the implementation of all aspects of the Program, coordinates the biennial Symposium, and leads efforts to establish relationships with representative consumers of the NRLP. 

The NRLP draws on ASL’s diverse and highly qualified faculty, all with significant relevant practice experience.  
  • Professor Paula Marie Young, a nationally-recognized expert in alternative dispute resolution, is currently teaching Environmental ADR.  
  • Professor Priscilla Harris is ASL’s authority on environmental statutes, and has been teaching environmental law at ASL since before the concept of an NRLP was developed.  
  • Professor Buzz Belleville focuses on energy law and policy, climate change and the law of renewables.  He is working to assure the curricular foundation for the NRLP, advising the various student groups, and representing ASL with Virginia Tech and EMLF.  
  • Professor Derrick Howard teaches the Natural Resources Law seminar and focuses on issues related to water law and environmental human rights.  As head of ASL’s externship program, he is working to expand site offerings and financial assistance for the summer placement of ASL’s natural resources students.  
  • Professor Patrick Baker is ASL’s point person on hard mineral law.  He is also building relationships with professionals in relevant areas including lawyers with mineral rights specialties, corporate counsel for energy companies and representatives of governmental agencies.  
  • Professor Danielle Kiser draws upon her considerable practical experience in mineral title abstracting in teaching real estate transactions.
Our Future

           With this foundation in place, it is easy to see that the future of the NRLP is an exciting one.  The 2013 launch is just the starting point.  In keeping with ASL’s commitment to community service and alternative dispute resolution, a central short-term goal is to develop a legal clinic both to provide a forum for addressing industry and community concerns, and to provide practical experience to ASL’s natural resources law students.  Developing dedicated physical space and the hard technology to support expansion of the NRLP is also on the short list of future plans.  Finally, the keystones described above give the NRLP great flexibility in offering, in the near future, a whole host of advanced opportunities for students. 

           By guiding students through the increasingly complex and ever-changing world of natural resources law, the NRLP will ultimately develop students into effective advocates and problem-solvers.  ASL envisions a place where students can be trained for rewarding careers in all aspects of natural resources law, where attorneys can advocate for the competing interests of natural resources commerce and protection, and where all can meet and find mutually sustainable solutions based on rational thought and cooperation.  

           ASL’s dynamism in launching the NRLP, its first real national initiative, will help secure the success of ASL for years to come.  

For more information, contact Associate Professor Pat Baker. 

Back to School: Why Pay More to Learn the Same Legal Precedent?

A year ago, the woman who served as the 2013 graduating class' valedictorian -- Candice DuVernois -- told me she wanted to create a YouTube video clearly conveying that ASL students read, learn, and apply the same legal precedent law students learn at fancier (more expensive) law schools.

Here is a link to the students' video work product, called Appalachian School of Law "Mediate." 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to School: Imagining Your Future in Law School and Beyond

A tunnel, an archway, and the view beyond.  

I used these images in a guided meditation with our new 1Ls to help them capture their subconscious dreams for their law school careers and their future as lawyers.  

Here's the text I used.  Before launching into it, I took the students through the Getting Vertical Meditation described here

Again, I want to thank my business coach, Christine Kane, for inspiring this meditation. 

Tunnel, Archway, and View Beyond Meditation
Inspired by Christine Kane (as remembered by Paula Marie Young)

Now imagine yourself at the mouth of a passage-way or tunnel

You cannot yet see the end of it

But you take a step into it

You are entering three stages of your career at law school

The first stage represents your first year in law school, where you begin to learn the jargon, and the ways of thinking, and analysis, and begin to develop the professional relationships you will have for the rest of your life

Now imagine taking a step into the second stage of your law school career – the second year. 

Now you have more confidence, more knowledge, and more comfort that you can master whatever comes your way.  You focus more on skill building.

Now take a moment to focus on the passage way.  What does the floor, walls, and ceiling look like to you at each of these stages?

Now take a step into the third stage of the tunnel, your final year in law school.  Now you are busy with co-curricular competitions, and applications to take the bar exam, and leadership positions in student organizations, and law review editing, as well as course work.

And then ahead of you, you can now see a large archway.  What form does it take?  What is it made of?  What are its contours and adornment?

Now take a step towards the archway and look out on the view beyond.  What unfolds for you there?  
What is the future you imagine for yourself, your family, and your career?  What does your heart tell you about that future?

Now bring your attention back to your breathing.  Feel the calm that exists throughout you.  You have the path in your mind to your success as a law student and as a lawyer.  Return to that image when you need to.  It expresses the open, courageous, generous, and loving servant’s heart of a lawyer.  It represents the source of your power.  It represents your true self.

Gently open your eyes.